January 22, 2006. It is with a very sad and extremely heavy heart that I pass along the news that Janette Carter passed away this morning. She had experienced health problems for several years, including Parkinson's Disease.
Despite this, she continued the commitment to her work: honoring the music and memory of her father, A. P. Carter, her mother, Sara and her Aunt Maybelle Carter through weekly music programs at the Carter Fold, in Maces Spring (near Hiltons), VA. There, in 1974, at the foot of Clinch Mountain, she and her brother, Joe, and some of the neighbors had cleaned out the old A. P. Carter Grocery Store and installed 75 recycled auditorium seats from an old school auditorium. The first concert was actually held outside during the summer of 1974. It featured Janette, who sang and played her autoharp on Carter Family and her original songs, along with her brother, Joe, on guitar. Also playing were Doc Addington (Maybelle's brother) and Carl McConnell (a cousin), who performed as the Virginia Boys, and Sylvia Sammons, a blind singer from North Carolina whom Janette had met at a festival in Cosby, TN. The audience, which was surprisingly large considering that word of mouth was the only publicity, stood outside or sat on blankets or chairs they brought themselves. From that inaugural concert the Carter Fold grew in popularity as word got around. Within a year or so, the audience had outgrown the small store building and the present barn-like Fold was built, holding about 800 people and hosting an annual festival in addition to the regular programs.
Janette instituted simple rules: no electric instruments (except for Johnny Cash), no dancing to the religious numbers, no smoking on the dance floor (until it was stopped completely) and no sexy dancing. And of course, no alcohol. She was known to ask rule breakers to leave, and if they DARED to defy her, there was a "home guard" that would back her up. Her watchwords were "to honor her Daddy's wish" to carry on his music and she swore that if she could not do that, she would close the doors. The doors are still open wide.
Even to the last, Janette was the eternal matriarch, opening each concert with a couple of songs, with Joe as long as he was around. (I was there on Dec. 10th and Raymond McLain and I "helped" her as she played "Jimmy Brown, the Newsboy.") After bringing the featured band out, she sat on stage throughout most of the concerts, as if she had to be there to make sure everything went well, and to request that the band play "a hoedown so they can dance" if the audience looked restless. Dancing was an integral part of the program, and Janette sometimes joined the dancers, showing the footwork that she developed from the age of 3, when she danced at Carter Family concerts.
There are THOUSANDS of great stories and memories about the hundreds of concerts, bands, dancers and legends who have been a part of the Fold's history, but none of them would have happened had Janette not taken the first step over 30 years ago. Along the way, she received many honors, including the National Heritage Fellowship (finally!) last year. I think she was satisfied with what she was doing, but she was tired of hurting. Her children, Rita and Dale, will continue her work. They need our support and love.